Alice Stewart

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Alice Stewart
Dr Alice Stewart at Fifth IPPNW European Congress, Coventry Wellcome L0075316.jpg
Alice Stewart
Born4 October 1906
Sheffield, England
Died23 June 2002(2002-06-23) (aged 95)
Oxford, England
Known forsocial medicine
effects of radiation on health
AwardsRight Livelihood Award (1986) Ramazzini Award (1991)
Scientific career
InstitutionsOxford University Medical School
InfluencesThomas Mancuso
George Kneale

Dr Alice Mary Stewart, née Naish (4 October 1906 – 23 June 2002) was a British physician and epidemiologist specialising in social medicine and the effects of radiation on health. Her study of radiation-induced illness among workers at the Hanford plutonium production plant, Washington, is frequently cited by those who seek to demonstrate that even very low doses of radiation cause substantial hazard. She was the first person to demonstrate the link between x-rays of pregnant women and high cancer rates in their children.[1] She was awarded the Right Livelihood Award in 1986 "for bringing to light in the face of official opposition the real dangers of low-level radiation."[2]

Early life[edit]

Stewart was born in Sheffield, England, the daughter of two physicians, Lucy (née Wellburn) and Albert Naish. Both were pioneers in paediatrics, and both became heroes in Sheffield for their dedication to children's welfare. Alice studied pre-clinical medicine at Girton College, Cambridge, and in 1932 completed her clinical studies at the Royal Free Hospital, London. She gained experienced in hospital posts in Manchester and London, and in 1936 passed the examinations for membership of the Royal College of Physicians. From 1935 she held the post of registrar at the Royal Free Hospital and from 1939 a consultant post at the Elizabeth Garratt Anderson hospital. In 1941 she moved to Oxford to take up a temporary residency at the Radcliffe Infirmary after which she was recruited by Radcliffe professor Dr. Leslie Witts as his senior assistant working at the Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine and it was there she developed her interest in social medicine, researching health problems experienced by wartime munitions workers.[3]

Epidemiological studies[edit]

The department of social and preventive medicine at Oxford was created in 1942, with Stewart as assistant head. In 1950 she succeeded as head of the unit, but to her disappointment she was not granted the title of "professor", as awarded to her predecessor, because by then the post was considered not to be of great importance.[4] Nonetheless, in 1953 the Medical Research Council allocated funds to her pioneering study of x-rays as a cause of childhood cancer, which she worked on from 1953 until 1956. Her results were initially regarded as unsound. Her findings on fetal damage caused by x-rays of pregnant women were eventually accepted worldwide and the use of medical x-rays during pregnancy and early childhood was curtailed as a result (although it took around two and a half decades).[5] Stewart retired in 1974.

Her most famous investigation came after her formal retirement, while an honorary member of the department of social medicine at the University of Birmingham.[4] Working with Professor Thomas Mancuso of the University of Pittsburgh she examined the sickness records of employees in the Hanford plutonium production plant, Washington state, and found a far higher incidence of radiation-induced ill health than was noted in official studies.[6] Sir Richard Doll, the epidemiologist respected for his work on smoking-related illnesses, attributed her anomalous findings to a "questionable" statistical analysis supplied by her assistant, George Kneale (who was aware of, but may have miscalculated, the unintentional "over-reporting" of cancer diagnoses in communities near to the works). Stewart herself acknowledged that her results were outside the range considered statistically significant.[7][8] Today, however, her account is valued as a response to the perceived bias in reports produced by the nuclear industry.[4][9]

In 1986, she was added to the roll of honour of the Right Livelihood Foundation, an annual award presented in Stockholm.[10] Stewart eventually gained her coveted title of "professor" through her appointment as a professorial fellow of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford.[11] In 1997 Stewart was invited to become the first Chair of the European Committee on Radiation Risk.[12]


  1. ^ Carmel McCoubrey (4 July 2002). "Alice Stewart, 95; Linked X-Rays to Diseases". The New York Times. p. B 6. Retrieved 2 August 2021.
  2. ^ "Alice Stewart". The Right Livelihood Award. Retrieved 8 January 2020.
  3. ^ Greene, Gayle (2017). The Woman Who Knew Too Much — Alice Stewart and the Secrets of Radiation (revised ed.). Ann Arbor MI: University of Michigan Press. pp. 35–56. ISBN 0472053566.
  4. ^ a b c Doll, Richard (January 2006). "Alice Stewart". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/76998. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  5. ^ Stewart, Alice M; J.W. Webb; B.D. Giles; D. Hewitt, 1956. "Preliminary Communication: Malignant Disease in Childhood and Diagnostic Irradiation In-Utero," Lancet, 1956, 2: 447.
  6. ^ Mancuso, Thomas; Stewart, Alice; Kneale, George (November 1977). "Radiation exposures of Hanford workers dying from cancer and other causes". Health Physics. MacLean VA: Health Physics Society. 33 (5): 369–385. doi:10.1097/00004032-197711000-00002. ISSN 1538-5159. PMID 591314.
  7. ^ Stewart, Alice; Kneale, George (1978). "Low-dose radiation". The Lancet. 312 (8083): 262–263. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(78)91772-5. ISSN 0140-6736. PMID 79054. S2CID 35987772. [our] approach requires either much larger doses than were encountered in the Hanford study or a much larger data base
  8. ^ Martin, John (November 1980). "On cancer and radiation". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Chicago, IL. 36 (9): 59. The 90 percent confidence interval is bounded by the range from 380 to 448 cancer deaths. Thus 442 deaths is not a statistically significant deviation from the average expectation.…Kneale and Stewart do not claim their results to be statistically significant
  9. ^ Mole, R. H. (1 May 1982). "Hanford radiation study". British Journal of Industrial Medicine. London: BMJ Publishing. 39 (2): 200–202. doi:10.1136/oem.39.2.200. ISSN 0007-1072. PMC 1008976. PMID 7066239.
  10. ^ "Alice Stewart". Laureates. Right Livelihood Foundation. 2007. Archived from the original on 17 November 2008. Retrieved 6 June 2008.
  11. ^ Vines, Gail (28 July 1995). "A Nuclear Reactionary". Times Higher Educational Supplement.
  12. ^ Staff writers (2003). "Background: the ECRR". European Committee on Radiation Risk. Retrieved 18 June 2009.


  • Greene, Gayle (2017). The Woman Who Knew Too Much — Alice Stewart and the Secrets of Radiation (revised ed.). Ann Arbor MI: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0472053566.